Lord of Sabbath

The Pharisees and Scribes objected to the looseness of Jesus to their Sabbath regulations, but he used the opportunity to demonstrate that the “Son of Man” is “Lord” even over that day. God ceased His creative activities on the seventh day. Still, its formal establishment as a regulated day on which no work could be done did not occur until the Torah was given at Mount Sinai (“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”).

The “traditions of the elders” prohibited Israelites from journeying more than a short distance on the seventh day, the so-called “Sabbath day’s journey.” How far the disciples walked on this day is not stated. The traditional regulation specified a “journey” of no more than 1,999 paces, approximately eight hundred meters.

Wheat ripened - Photo by Paz Arando on Unsplash
[Photo by Paz Arando on Unsplash]

The disciples were observed by more “devout” Jews plucking ears of grain and rubbing them in their hands to separate the grain from the chaff. According to the “
tradition of the elders,” this qualified as “reaping and winnowing,” an activity forbidden on the Sabbath - (Mark 2:23-28).

Under the Law, it was permissible for anyone passing through a grain field to pick grain by hand for immediate consumption (“gleaning”). The Pharisees objected because the disciples did so on a Sabbath day, not because of any violations of the landowner's property rights - (Deuteronomy 23:25).

Jesus responded with a question based on the life of David. One day while famished, David and his men ate bread forbidden by the Mosaic Law to anyone except the priests. The story referred to the “shewbread” or the “bread of the presence,” the twelve loaves of sanctified bread placed in the Tabernacle every Sabbath - (1 Samuel 21:1-6).

The circumstances of David’s story were not the same as those of Jesus and his disciples. They were not in a state of physical distress, and he did not cite the violation of a Torah regulation by David as an excuse, but instead, as a legal precedent.

Since the “Son of Man” was the true Messiah and King, if that which was “holy” was set aside for common use by David, how much more appropriate was it to set aside that which was “holy” for use by the Greater David and true King of Israel?

His declaration was most appropriate - “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” In their zeal to obey the Law, some Jews forgot its purpose – Namely, to do good to men and women. As the day of rest and worship, God did not intend for anyone to be deprived of the necessities of life on the seventh day. It was for the well-being of humanity, and even slaves and animals were allowed to rest on the Sabbath.

Since the Sabbath was made to benefit mankind, it followed logically that the “Son of Man was Lord even of the Sabbath.” He was the designated representative and ruler of Israel. In the Greek sentence, “Lord” is emphatic and stresses the point, namely, his authority as the “Son of Man” and “Lord.” The version recorded in Matthew adds the following:

  • Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath, and are innocent? But I say to you, that something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”

Sabbath restrictions were not absolute. Temple priests engaged in “work” on it and other feast days while carrying out their priestly duties. Jesus, the “Son of Man,” was something “greater than the Temple.” If priests were authorized to violate the Sabbath in the Temple, and Jesus was greater than the Temple, how could he be restricted in his work to help men and women by Sabbath regulations?

HEALING ON THE SABBATH


  • (Mark 3:1-6) – “And he entered again into a synagogue, and there was a man with his hand withered and they were narrowly watching him whether he would heal on the Sabbath that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had his hand withered: Arise into the midst! And he said to them: Is it allowed on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil? To save life or to slay? But they remained silent. And looking around on them with anger, being at the same time grieved on account of the hardening of their heart, he said to the man: Stretch forth your hand! And he stretched it forth, and his hand was restored. And the Pharisees, going out immediately with the Herodians, were giving counsel against him that they should destroy him.”

The version of the story in the Gospel of Luke adds the following - “But they were filled with rage and discussed together what they might do to Jesus. And it was at this time that he went off to the mountain to pray and he spent the whole night in prayer to God.”

Is it lawful on the Sabbath to save life or to kill?” Like the Sabbath, the Mosaic Law was intended to benefit humanity. The first part of the question refers to what Jesus intended to do for the man with the withered hand, good rather than evil. Not restoring his hand would be the same as doing evil. The second half refers to what his opponents were plotting, the destruction of Christ.

Healing on the Sabbath was forbidden. However, there was an exception approved even by the Scribes and Pharisees. It was permissible to heal if a life was at stake. In this case, the man’s life was not at risk. He would come to no harm if Jesus waited until evening to restore his hand, but he refused to draw such a narrow distinction between saving a life and restoring the man to wholeness. To delay healing for even a few hours was to deny the Law’s intent. Restoring the man was paramount, and doing so could not be delayed - (Leviticus 21:16-21).

The actions of Jesus answered his question. Not only was it permissible to do good on the Sabbath, but it was right and merciful to do so. The narrow attitude of his opponents would lead to the destruction of life in the end.

The incident was a major turning point in his Galilean ministry. The reaction of his opponents transformed them from critics into enemies. From this point, they began to plot to destroy him.



RELATED POSTS:
  • Son of David - (Jesus is the son of David and heir to the Messianic Throne, the beloved Son of God, and the Suffering Servant of Yahweh)
  • Son of Abraham - (Jesus is the true Son of Abraham, the heir of the promises, the Anointed One who fulfills and implements the inheritance for his people)
  • Kingdom Herald - (After his baptism, the Spirit drove Jesus into the Wilderness to be tested by the Devil. But he overcame and succeeded where Israel failed)

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